Ho Chi Minh: Symbol of Vietnamese Struggle Against Imperialism

He became a powerful symbol of Vietnamese nationalism, anti-imperialism and unification of Vietnam during an anti-communist movement of the South backed by the US. 

Ho Chi Minh
For 25 years, he served as president and became a powerful symbol of Vietnamese nationalism, anti-imperialism. Source: History.com

Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese Communist Leader and Former President of North Vietnamwas born on 19th May. He was born in a small village named Kimlen Annam, Central Vietnam, in 1890. He was largely responsible for organising the Indochinese Communist Party and the founding of the Viet Minh i.e. League for the Independence of Vietnam, which was the communist liberation movement of the Vietnamese against French Occupation. It was around the time of organising the ICO that he started to use the name Ho Chi Minh meaning Enlightener.

By the end of World War 2, the Viet Minh seized the northern city of Hanoi, and established the Democratic State of Vietnam, also known as North Vietnam, with Ho as the President. For the next 25 years, he served as President and became a powerful symbol of Vietnamese nationalism, anti-imperialism and unification of Vietnam during an anti-communist movement of the South backed by the US.

Early Life

In his early life in 1911 he worked as a cook on a French steamship, and left Vietnam. After this, he worked in London and Paris. He later went to Moscow and studied Marxist-Leninist thought and history extensively. In 1924, he was sent to Canton, China; he was working under Lenin’s Communist International and it was here that he organised a revolutionary movement among Vietnamese exiles in China. With the Chinese Government cracking down on communist activities, he was exiled, only to return in 1930, when he founded the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP).

He returned to Vietnam in 1941 and organised the Viet Minh.

 Influence of Marxist-Leninism: 

In the essay, The Path Which Led me to Leninism, Ho mentions how he was heavily influenced by Lenin’s “Thesis on the national and colonial questions”, which was introduced to him in one of the discussions in the Socialist, French Section of Workers International or SFIO  which later developed into French Communist Party. He was introduced to the text after he questioned the lack of discussion on colonialism and the state of the colonies in the party discussions.

Ho on attending the 5th Congress of ComIntern (Communist International), praised Lenin in French Magazine Le Sifflet saying, ““Lenin was the first to realize and assess the full importance of drawing the colonial peoples into the revolutionary movement. He was the first to point out that, without the participation of the colonial peoples, the socialist revolution could not come about.”

In The Path Which Led me to Lenin, he says, “At first, patriotism, not yet Communism, led me to have confidence in Lenin…. By studying Marxism-Leninism parallel with participation in practical activities, I gradually came upon the fact that only Socialism and Communism can liberate the oppressed nations and the working people.” This was a key ideological focus for Ho, whereby the vehicle of communism was the means through which Vietnamese freedom and liberation could be achieved.

Postage stamp from Vietnam depicting Ho Chi Minh and Lenin banner. Source: alamy.com

In a letter written to the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930, he mentions how once Vietnam achieves independence from the French, the Communist Party would establish a worker-peasant and soldier government. Businesses and plantations would be confiscated and distributed among peasants. An 8 hour work day would be implemented; universal education be established. Unjust taxes removed, equality among men and women would be pursued.

Ho also believed that Confucian ideals of the “superior person quality” would assist the people of Vietnam in the struggle for independence. The superior person qualities include enlightenment, friendship, philanthropy, desire to learn. Ho believed that each soldier and citizen could attain such qualities.

Engagement with French Left

Minh noticed how the values of the French Revolution were hardly manifested in concrete terms; The French left spoke heavily on domestic socialism but was hardly critical and rarely condemned the French occupation of Vietnam. He mentions how in discussions, his key argument was, “If you do not condemn colonialism, if you do not side with the colonial people, what kind of revolution are you waging?” He distributed leaflets critiquing the same; In one of his leaflets he says:

“It is bitterly ironic to find that civilisation – symbolised in its various forms, viz. Liberty, justice, etc., by the gentle image of woman, and run by a category of men well known to be champions of gallantry – inflicts on its living emblem the most ignoble treatment and afflicts her shamefully in her manners, her modesty, and even her life…Colonialism is unbelievably widespread and cruel.”

Ho addressing French Communist Party
Ho addressing the founding meeting of the French Communist Party, December 1920. Source: Jacobinmag.com

During a speech as a delegate in Congress for the SFIO, he called on the members of the party to make the socialist propaganda in all the colonies.

“expose the tricks and dodges of its” imperialists in the colonies, to support every colonial liberation movement not merely in words but in deeds, to demand the expulsion of their own imperialists from these colonies, to inculcate among the workers of their country a genuinely fraternal attitude to the working people of the colonies and the oppressed nations, and to carry on systematic agitation among the troops of their country against any oppression of the colonial peoples.”

On US Imperialism and Internationalism:

During the 20th Century, with anti-Imperialist movements sweeping across Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, ideologies such as communism and Islamism were embraced to fight imperialistic powers. A significant threat was posed to Western powers and their global economic and territorial dominance. This can be seen in how Communist North Vietnam scared The US into send in half a million troops to overthrow the communist government in the North.

In an interview with Wilfred Burchett of the National Guardian and the Algerian Revolution Africaine, he said:

“A savage war is being waged against our compatriots in South Vietnam …. U.S. pilots are daily bombing and burning peaceful villages, destroying food crops and orchards with noxious chemicals …. The U.S. directed military-political aims at present are to herd the entire population in the countryside of South Vietnam into concentration camps …. [T]ens of thousands had been massacred in cold blood and hundreds of thousands more herded into the slow death.”

Ho Chi Minh International Influence
U.S. soldiers holding up a cloth portrait of Ho Chi Minh, found during a search of the Mimot rubber plantation in Cambodia, in early May 1970. Source: AP Photo by Henri Huet

Ho Chi Minh and his comrades, while giving priority to their own revolution, did not fail to support and link their own with others occurring around the world. The extended support to Malay, Siam (now Thailand) and Indochina in the 1930s; China in the 1940s. After 1975 (after Ho’s death), Vietnam continued to supply weapons to Algeria, Chile, and El Salvador in support of revolutionary movements against Western imperialist powers.

Ho Chi Minh has been praised often as an “internationalist militant”, redefining Marxist-Leninism using Patriotism. Ho viewed the world as being divided into two camps, and believed in securing the unity among international communists and workers movements based on Marxist Leninist proletarian internationalism. The ultimate goal was thus to consolidate and mobilise the people’s front against Imperial aggressors.

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